Blossoming flower: Land-based education takes root in the Edmonton river valley

Blossoming flower: Land-based education takes root in the Edmonton river valley

Long before reaching the kids frolicking near a teepee in Edmonton’s river valley, you can hear their excited chatter.

Over spring break, 10 children learned Cree, baked bannock, raced on snowshoes and followed animal tracks in the forest.

Ranging from four to 10 years old, they are the first participants of the land-based education program Blossoming Flower.

Organizers say the launch is the first step in a larger vision with plans to eventually expand to schools and daycares.

“The beautiful thing about the land-based school is it’s rooted in anti-racism,” said Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse, co-founder and executive director of the Yellowhead Indigenous Education Foundation.

“All children are welcome to learn about the relationship to the land, to the water, to wildlife, to ecosystems, biodiversity. This is about planting seeds of sustainability, so that future generations can coexist in peace, love, friendship — just as treaties were the foundation for us to exist here.”

Two children and an adult cook over a fire in the forest.
Jodi Calahoo-Stonehouse, left, says Blossoming Flower teaches future adults to co-exist in peace, love and friendship. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

Last week’s activities took place in the newly opened Indigenous sacred space in Whitemud Park — kihcihkaw askî — where members of the public will soon have opportunities to visit.

Oleva McRae, 10, said she enjoyed learning outdoors, building on her beadwork skills and connecting to her Métis identity.

“You can let out your true colors because you feel different and calm,” McRae told CBC.

She said attending a school that offers a full-time land-based education “would be relaxing when you do all your work out here. It’s more calming than indoors.”

The sun shines a face of a smiling woman in a toque and sunglasses
Tiffany Smith says the land-based education program allows children to build relationships through culture. (CBC News)

Tiffany Smith, Blossoming Flower’s education program director and co-founder, said the program builds relationships through understanding by learning about Indigenous language and culture and having people from Indigenous and non-Indigenous backgrounds come together.

“It’s very experiential learning based,” Smith said. “They’re learning all sorts of skills that aren’t being taught in silos. They’re learning physics, they’re learning geography, history.”

She said “learning on the land allows children to learn in all different modes” whether it’s reading about the natural world around them or climbing a tree.

Boy sitting in a teepee smiles at the camera.
Christian Holt, 8, says he looks forward to sharing the Cree language with others. (CBC News)

“My experience has been great here,” said Christian Holt, 8. “There is no limit to what you can do in nature.”

Holt said he looks forward to sharing what he’s learned.

“I like asking people facts if I can tell them a bunch of cool facts about things, and now I can tell people about Cree.”